Firefighters are family. They live together, cook together, spend birthdays and holidays together and in the line of duty they risk their lives together. And like traditional families, when one member of the family is struggling, it affects everyone.
“Firefighting is not your typical 9-to-5 job. They (the firefighters) work for 48 hours at a time and have to work through all the typical things that occur in a family,” said Sagle Fire Chief Rob Goodyear.
In early December Jason Cordle, a captain for the Sagle Fire Department, and his wife, Kristine, received news that no new parent should hear. Their 14-month-old son was diagnosed with cancer. Since then they have learned just how important the support of their family of firefighters is to them.
Their son, Tyler, appeared to be in pain and had stopped crawling according to family friend Andrea Littlefield. Jason and Kristine took Tyler to the doctor in Sandpoint on a Monday morning and by that afternoon they found themselves in Spokane being told that their only child had neuroblastoma cancer.
Neuroblastoma, the most common infant cancer, occurs in approximately 650 infants in the United States annually. Characteristics of neuroblastoma include a tumor or tumors that attack the nerve network that carries messages from the brain and throughout the body. Although the cause of neuroblastoma is unknown, it is thought to arise from an accidental cell growth that occurs during development of the adrenal glands.
Unfortunately, by the time Tyler was diagnosed, his tumors had spread to his abdomen, head, right lung and right leg. There are also cancer cells in his bone marrow. When Tyler was diagnosed, his neuroblastoma was already at stage 4, giving him a 33 percent chance of survival.
“The way I look at that is that there are 33 percent of those diagnosed who survive,” said Andrea Littlefield, wife of Sagle firefighter Jeff Littlefieldand daughter of Sandpoint fire Chief Robert Tyler.
After his first round of chemotherapy, Tyler’s immune system was compromised and he underwent two blood transfusions. His treatment plan is to undergo a total of six rounds of chemotherapy in Spokane. After he completes those rounds, the family will travel to Seattle for approximately four months where Tyler will have surgery to remove the primary tumor and will also receive a bone marrow transplant. The final stage of the plan is for Tyler to return to Spokane for radiation and immune system therapy.
In the last couple of years, parenthood has brought several members of the already close-knit Sagle Fire Department even closer. When Tyler was born there were two other Sagle Fire Department families, including Littlefield and her husband, who had children within two weeks of Tyler’s birth.
When Littlefield learned of Tyler’s diagnosis, she knew she had to do what she could to help her friends. Within hours she was brainstorming for fundraising ideas.
“It’s (fundraising) the easiest way for me to deal with this,” said Littlefield, who Goodyear says is like the Energizer bunny for how quickly she has put all of this together.
Next Saturday at Bonner County Fairgrounds, there will be a dinner, music and auction put on by Littlefield and other firefighters and their families.
“The firemen from a lot of different fire departments will serve the food,” said Littlefield. “We have firefighters coming from Sagle, Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene, Timberlake and Spirit Lake.”
“It’s an amazing effort on behalf of everyone,” said Goodyear. “It involves a lot of the firefighting community, not just the Sagle Fire Department.”
There will be music as well as live and silent auctions. Local restaurants Ivanos and Spuds are donating 250 lasagna dinners; Wood’s Meats is donating the beef and sausage for the lasagna; Litehouse, Tango Cafe and the Pie Hut also are donating food for the event. A & P’s will have a full no-host bar and Laughing Dog Brewery will donate beer to the event.
In an effort to make it affordable for anyone who wants to attend, ticket prices have been set at $10.
“It is to make money, but it is to have fun, too,” said Littlefield.
Sandpoint firefighter Michael Gow is helping Littlefield organize the fundraiser. In addition to next Saturday’s event, he and his fellow Sandpoint firefighters are ironing out details with Goodyear so that they can work shifts for Jason so that he can continue to earn a paycheck and keep his job.
“Jason is working some now, but in the summer they may have to be in Seattle for four months so they could really use that then,” said Gow, who adds that he is not surprised at how everyone wants to help Jason and his family.
“Everyone is so willing to help because they know Jason and know how much he has helped other people,” said Gow.
When Littlefield first brought up the idea of having a fundraiser, people close to her warned her that it won’t be easy.
“People said with the economy so bad and it being so close to Christmas that I shouldn’t try to do this now,” said Littlefield. “But I told everyone I have to try. I have to do something to help them.”
And she is glad she did.
“I’m blown away by all the people who are asking what they can do to help,” said Littlefield, who said that she fields at least five phone calls a day.
Littlefield said it is very touching to see how not just the Sandpoint and Sagle fire districts are helping out, but those as far away as Coeur d’Alene, Timberlake and Spirit Lake as well.
In Goodyear’s 34 years as a firefighter, he said he has worked in various fire districts and while he has witnessed some pretty amazing fundraisers, this particular effort tops all of them.
“This response is more than I’ve witnessed in the past. I think that speaks a lot to the generosity of this community,” said Goodyear. “And I don’t think this will be the last fundraiser we’ll have for Tyler. We are dedicated to doing all we can to help out Jason and his family.”
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